The NBA playoffs are insanely difficult to watch right now. For the first time in four seasons, we're on the outside looking in. Because of that, the entire tournament is seeming to drag along at a Shaquille O'Neal-esque pace, all the while the dreadlocked citizens of Rip City are stuck chomping at the bit for one of their most promising off-seasons since 1970. We can all feel it, it's in the air, it's in the beer, and it's on the court; we've positioned ourselves to be the arbiters of our own future. Portland has cleared up between 15 and 25 million in cap space (depending on who resigns, picks up player options, etc.) in an off-season which has been touted as one of the most star-studded in history.
As the media churns out more and more reports, it seems that Portland is looking to rebound in a hurry, and that involves going after top quality free agents. Upper management has made it clear that our (potentially) two lottery picks are on the table for any team that is able to ante up. As a Portlandian and a fan, this makes me excited. It's easy to put on for your city when you have a line out the door and around the block for your assets. However, as a realist, I feel that management is being remiss towards the gift that they've been given. That gift, my friends, is two lottery picks.
The draft is far from being an exact science; Kwame Brown and Michael Olowokandi are living testaments of that. Nor do you have to follow sports very closely to know Portland's plight in the NBA draft. But in the wake of the Sam Bowies, LaRue Martins, and Greg Odens, we have forgotten the many successes Portland has had in the draft. Do you remember a guy by the name of Brandon Roy? How about LaMarcus Aldridge? Nic Batum, anyone? And while we did not directly
draft all of these players, we did acquire them all on draft day. Portland has made some phenomenal decisions, drafting the likes of: Arvydas Sabonis, Zach Randolph, Jermaine O'Neal, Mychael Thompson, Clyde Drexler, Cliff Robinson, Jerome Kersey, and Terry Porter, all of whom have had stellar careers in the Rose City and/or elsewhere. So, in essence, Portland has had bad luck in the draft, yes, however it is very one-sided to not take a look at all of the excellent draft choices Portland has made throughout time and take those into likewise consideration.
In the interest of storytelling, let's journey back to 2006 for just one moment. Can you remember? Can you remember what Portland did? Portland got away with draft day murder
. We stole the two best
players in the entire lottery that year, and we gave the Bulls and T-Wolves absolutely nothing in return. We just left them in a ditch off of Highway 213. It was franchise defining. We had finally turned the corner from being the "Jail-Blazers" to being dubbed "future contenders". We were all proud in Rip City, excited for the championship that was regarded as an inevitability. Now, let's take another journey through draft history through the lens of the Oklahoma City Thunder and take a look at what they accomplished. In three successive years, they drafted three cornerstones of their franchise. Kevin Durant in 2007 (insert Blazer-rage here), Russell Westbrook in 2008, and James Harden in 2009. These are three pieces to an incredible puzzle, a puzzle which may allow this small-market expansion team to attain an NBA championship. Keep in mind, the Thunder are showing absolutely zero
signs of fading away in the near future.
Please, take another look at the previous two stories and ask yourself, "What do they have in common?" Both of these situations were created through the draft. Small market teams like Portland and OKC stand a better chance at greatness if their teams are built through the draft. Free agency is a much tougher mountain to climb and marquee free agents tend to steer clear of the Rose City (Dwight Howard ain't coming here, guys). In the draft, the size of your market does not matter, the amount of endorsement dollars available to players does not matter, nor does the amount of nightclubs in the city matter; it's all a level playing field. We don't have to settle for Goran Dragiç or Ömer Aşık as potential franchise cornerstones, we actually get to be greedy! For once! And it only takes one draft to change your franchise on a dime. One homerun, one miracle, and that is all. Again, I am not saying that the draft is perfect, there are not many "sure-things" in this year's draft, but what I am saying is this: Maybe we should actually use these lottery picks instead of treating them like proverbial jokers in a deck of cards, willing to discard with them at any opportunity.
Of course, this is just me, and I could be completely wrong.